Government and Politics in Southeast Asia

By John Funston | Go to book overview

9
THAILAND
Reform Politics

John Funston


INTRODUCTION

Thailand is the only state in Southeast Asia to escape colonialism. Many elements of traditional society therefore remain, but civil society has made its presence felt since the dramatic student-led overthrow of a military government in 1973. Subsequent reform has advanced in fits and starts. The 1997 “people’s constitution”, passed after the onset of a dramatic economic crisis, is the most ambitious attempt yet to entrench democratic rule.

Popular versions of Thai history trace state origins to the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, established in the mid thirteenth century. Driven out of China in a series of migrations, this is “the story of a conquering race claiming an empty territory as its home”.1 Under the legendary Ramkhamheng (1279–98), the kingdom expanded to include much of present-day Thailand. Historians no longer accept this account — archaeological findings confirm sophisticated civilisations centuries earlier, Sukhothai’s control of areas beyond its immediate neighbourhood in northern Thailand is much in doubt, and present day “Thais” are seen not as a unique race but a mixture of Tai, Mon, Khmer, Chinese, Indian and others. Nonetheless the popular account continues to be taught in schools, and remains influential.

Ayudhya, founded 1351 just to the north of the current capital, Bangkok, soon eclipsed neighbouring states, and became a major player on the Southeast Asian mainland. With an economic base founded on both rice and international trade, Ayudhya exercized at least a loose suzerainty over an area extending beyond present-day borders. It established relations with a range of countries, from China to Europe, sending a diplomatic

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Government and Politics in Southeast Asia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Contributors ix
  • Preface x
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Brunei Malay, Monarchical, Micro-State 1
  • 2 - Cambodia after the Killing Fields 36
  • 3 - Indonesia Transforming the Leviathan 74
  • 4 - Laos Timid Transition 120
  • 5 - Malaysia Developmental State Challenged 160
  • 6 - Myanmar Military in Charge 203
  • 7 - Philippines Continuing People Power 252
  • 8 - Singapore Meritocratic City-State 291
  • 9 - Thailand Reform Politics 328
  • 10 - Vietnam Doi Moi Difficulties 372
  • Conclusion 411
  • Index 425
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